Srs Anne O’Neill and Antoinette O’Callaghan share their experience of mission
in Nigeria

Welcome to Plateau State, Jos, one of the most beautiful states in Nigeria, full of flowering trees in the dry season, lakes left after the tin mining, and unusual rock formations.

The Infant Jesus sisters came to Jos in 2000 and settled in Bukuru, a market town on the outskirts of the city. 90% of our neighbours are traders or business people making their livelihood from the market. In our community in Bukuru we welcome young women who, in the midst of the rapidly changing Nigerian society, continue to hear the call of God to: “come and see”; “go and tell”; “feed my lambs, feed my sheep”.

These young Nigerian women have had to make difficult choices. Often their parents need them to provide financial help and support to the family. They find it hard to understand how a woman can choose to remain unmarried, since being married and having children is a very important value in Nigerian society.

Yet despite pressures from family and society, these young women choose to live an alternative lifestyle, i.e., to give their entire lives to wherever the call of God may lead them – in the process foregoing marriage and ownership of worldly goods.

While they train to be Infant Jesus sisters, they are also very involved in their local community.

Community needs
As we reflected on the needs around us, we became aware that HIV/AIDS was everywhere, but dangerously invisible. Most HIV positive people in our local community were too frightened to tell anyone their status, so this silent killer continued to spread.

Knowing that there was little we could do on a large scale, we decided to set up a support group in our own local area in 2005. Within a few months there were over 70 people attending the meeting in our house on a weekly basis. Together we discussed the issues that were facing them – physical, emotional, and financial.

Each one has a different story to tell. Mothers had lost babies – one of the leaders of the group had lost five – and many had lost everything they owned to medical bills. They go from one clinic to another getting treated for various ailments. It is only when everything else fails that they go for the HIV test.

The goal of ‘Garkuwa’, our support group, is to reach out. We have at least 200-300 families in the group; they in turn are encouraged to reach out to friends, neighbours, and people who sell with them in the market or those in surrounding villages. They know the signs and symptoms. They are the ones best equipped to fight the spread of AIDS.

Sr Anne and Sr Antoinette work with the group. Over the years, strong capable members of the group have emerged as leaders. The group co-ordinator is a Muslim, which has created strong close relationships between the Christian and Muslim communities in Bukuru.

We had serious riots in Jos in 2001 and again in 2008 where Muslims and Christians indiscriminately killed one another. During this time, thanks to Garkuwa, our Muslim friends in Bukuru visited us regularly during the tense days that followed the riots.

Struggling together against AIDS has created a strong bond between the different Christian denominations, between Muslim and Christian, between black and white. We are friends and neighbours facing a common enemy and worshipping the same God. 

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